Luther Head felt it. It was something he had been missing for awhile. Something that isn't easy to come by when you've missed games in stretches of the season. The Illini junior led the way Saturday with 18 points and 4 steals. "I felt real confident today, I was more relaxed and I was just into it. When you got guys like Dee and Deron getting you the ball then it's pretty easy to knock down the shots," said Head.
Dee Brown and Deron Williams also stepped up and added 13 and 15 points respectively. Brown thinks that the fast break points are the difference in Illinois becoming a great team. "Once we get in transition and get everything clicking I think we're a tough team to beat. Tonight I think we got out in transition, got some confidence, made a couple shots and big plays and put them away.
If Illinois is going to go far this year, they're going to need consistent efforts from their highly proclaimed guards. Deron Williams thought his backcourt mates played great. "I think we all just stepped up and made plays. We hit shots when we needed them, we made good passes, and got stops and that's the most important," said Williams.
All game long the defensive pressure of the Illini pestered the Wolverines. Michigan out rebounded the Illini by a margin of 41-24 but their 18 turnovers were too much to overcome. Weber was excited to see the hard work on defense in practice pay off. "They watched film of Wisconsin and saw how bad it was defensively. The last 2 weeks that's all we've worked on in practice. We've gone back to basics. I guess it paid off today and hopefully it will pay off on Tuesday ( against Indiana)," said Weber.
So will Illinois be able to carry this momentum over to their road game Tuesday night against Indiana? The team thought they had turned the corner after whipping up on Penn State before being humbled by Wisconsin. Weber hopes the same result doesn't happen. "The question is can we bottle what we did today and take it on the road. That's what I talked about afterward, taking that energy and passion. We'll just go and see if we can fight and get a win on the road."
Illinois Grade Report:
Backcourt: The Illinois guards totally dominated their Michigan counterparts. They held Daniel Horton and Dion Harris to 3 points. Brown, Williams, and Head also combined for almost 70% of the teams points.
Frontcourt: If Illinois wants to win the Big 10 title they'll need to keep their big men out of foul trouble. James Augustine and Nick Smith battled foul trouble all night. Brian Randle only played a few minutes due to having the flu all week. That meant Jack Ingram and Aaron Spears had to play some minutes and they did ok. Roger Powell played a below average game.
Bench: Good thing that Ingram and Smith were able to back Augustine up. Rich McBride did a good job in relieving the guards and finished with 5 points. Nothing spectacular but it got the job done.
Every game from here on out becomes the most important game of the season. Illinois cannot afford to lose any at home and must steal some victories on the road if they want the Big 10 title. This coming week with two road games will go a long way in determining this teams fate.